Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix comedy special, "The Closer," has become the most recent, and perhaps the most significant, of Chappelle’s long history of scandals relating to his controversial material. The comedian’s entire career revolves around his enjoyment of making people mad and delivering jokes that are offensive, uncomfortable and degrading. "The Closer" is no different and has received immense backlash.
In this special, Chappelle explores his history of misogyny, homophobia and specifically emphasizes his transphobia. The entire premise of his set is to criticize his critics, defending his offensive jokes and flipping the narrative to position any refutations to his work as unreasonable.
He recalls a woman approaching him in a parking lot to question why he hates women: “Shut up, bitch. Before I kill you and put you in the trunk."
For 72 minutes, Chappelle delivers a constant flurry of tired, outdated transphobic “jokes" and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. In the end, he closes with the heartbreaking story of his friend Daphne Dorman, a transgender female comedian who died by suicide.
The story was almost endearing and could have shown a different side to Chappelle. But he presents her as his token transgender friend, in the same sense that racist white people say, “I’m not racist, my friend is Black!” And, he exploits the tragic death of his friend for laughs, immediately after describing the fact that for six days prior to her suicide, she was berated on Twitter with transphobic hate.
“I felt like (Dorman) lied to me. She always said she identified as a woman, and then one day she goes up to the roof of a building and jumps off and kills herself. Clearly, only a man would do some gangster shit like that.,” Chappelle said.
While Dorman’s family did come out in a statement defending Chappelle’s use of her story and death in his comedy routine, claiming that she would have loved it, this is incredibly insensitive to the 52 percent of transgender people who contemplated suicide just last year.
Additionally, Chappelle strangely makes it a point to stand by DaBaby, who was recently under heat for making homophobic comments during a concert, and Kevin Hart, who was removed from his position as an Oscar host in 2019 after homophobic tweets of his resurfaced online.
There's one small moment of brilliance buried in the nonsense of Chappelle’s routine: At one point, he discusses the slow, but significant progress the LGBTQ+ movement has made while noting that racial inequality is still incredibly prevalent, and Black members of the LGBTQ+ community are often left out of conversations.
On the other hand, although he used one small moment in his platform and his position as a powerful Black man to bring attention to a serious problem in the Black community, the overwhelming majority of his jokes being targeted at the transgender community is contradicting, as Black transgender women are one of the most oppressed populations in the country, which he fails to realize.
After the abundance of backlash both Chappelle and Netflix received for "The Closer," Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos sent out a memo to staff members addressing the controversy.
“Distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard,” he said. “Especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited, but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
While the argument of art’s existence to push boundaries and the freedom of creative expression can be valid and powerful, any rational person would conclude that context is important. In a social climate where hate and division have been heightened, and minority groups are constantly threatened, I think it's clear that it is easy to distinguish that "The Closer" is “harm” and not “commentary.”
Sarandos continues to discuss where Netflix draws the line on hate and responds to the influx of Netflix’s LGBTQ+ staff member's outspoken concerns regarding the show. “We don’t allow titles Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line,” he said.
Here’s a quick tip for you: If an oppressed member of a minority group is telling you, a white man, that something is hateful, believe them.
Sarandos' letter is the epitome of gaslighting. Especially considering that in 2020, Netflix removed one of Chappelle’s comedy shows from their streaming platform after Chappelle didn’t agree for it to be streamed. He claims he called Netflix to tell them that "this makes me feel bad."
"And you want to know what they did?" Chappelle continued. "They agreed they would take it off their platform just so I could feel better."
This wholeheartedly demonstrates Netflix’s affinity for prioritizing one single rich man’s concerns rather than the concerns of an entire marginalized population. The LBGQT+ community is telling Sarandos that "The Closer" is making them feel bad, and he has no interest in making them feel better.